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Staying at a ryokan should be up there on your Japan wish-list alongside spotting a geisha, seeing Mount Fuji and jumping aboard the shinkansen (bullet train). The experience of staying at these traditional inns is uniquely Japanese, so it might be worth a few pointers to get you prepared – and excited!
Insider’s guide to staying at a ryokan
1. Take off your shoes
On arrival, a kindly kimono-wearing host will present you with a pair of slippers. Take off your shoes at the genkan, a step just inside the entrance, and be sure to put them down with the toes facing the door.
2. Head to your room
Your room will have a tatami mat floor, sliding fusuma doors and likely nothing else, save for a teapot and a table. Don’t be alarmed! All will become clear.
3. Put on your yukata
A clean cotton robe, a yukata, will be presented to you. Just as you might slip into a dressing gown at a hotel, put it on and make yourself comfortable! Tuck the right side under the left (vice versa is reserved for corpses…)
4. Try the onsen
It’s time to try out the onsen, hot spring bath. These may be private or shared depending on the ryokan that you’re staying at, but men and women are always separate. Sit on one of the stools to have a shower before you get in, and note that it is customary to bathe naked. No exceptions!
5. Dinner etiquette
Sufficiently relaxed, put on your yukata ready for dinner; a series of seasonal specialities known as kaiseki. Hope you’re hungry! Dishes often include tempura fish, grilled meat, fresh sashimi, miso soup and silken tofu. Hospitable hosts are happy to cater for dietary requirements but they must be submitted well in advance.
When it’s time to sleep, ryokan staff will lay out your bed. A thick fluffy futon will be waiting for you, lovingly piled with a cosy blanket. “Oyasuminasai”, sweet dreams!
A stay at a ryokan can be incorporated into all of our holidays to Japan. Now you know what to expect, get in touch to get planning!